A Neat School Girl's Day Cap

One of my favorite historical reference books is The Workwoman's Guide: A Guide to 19th Century Decorative Arts, Fashion and Practical Crafts by a Lady, originally published in 1838. Personally, I think anyone who does period sewing for the early 19th century should have a copy in their reference library. This book is Wonderful! It has instructions for everything from undergarments to bed hangings. The instructions can be challenging at times because the author assumes that the reader has basic knowledge of hand sewing techniques in general use at the time. Unfortunately, today's seamstress may find herself at a loss when deciphering the measurements and instructions if she has no experience with traditional hand sewing techniques..
My reprinted copy purchased from Amazon.com

Recently, I decided to draft and make the pattern on page 64 entitled, A Neat School Girl's Cap (illustrations on page 63, plate 9, figures 13 & 14). Of course, I would pick the pattern with the vaguest instructions (as a professor in college once said to me, "You can't start with the easiest project can you? You have to go straight for the most challenging.") Anyway, after some serious head-scratching over the non-existent details of construction I decided to reference what I already knew about cap construction techniques. The day cap was of simple design and what the instructions didn't elaborate on was easy to figure out.
Illustration of cap on page 63. Some of the measurement are visible.

Actual instructions from the book:

    " This pattern needs little further explanation, the shape and size are so clearly given in the Plate. The head-piece is sloped off at the ears, beginning to cut at 1 nail above the corner, to 1 nail beyond the corner, at the bottom of the cap.
     This cap is for school-girls, and is particularly neat if of checked muslin with corded muslin frills."

Seems clear as mud!

First, I drafted the pattern based on the measurements and the illustration. One thing about drafting patterns from this book is the type of measurement used. The author uses the measurement of 'nails' not inches. Luckily on page 14 there is a section on how big a 'nail' is in comparison to an inch; 2 1/4 inches equals 1 nail. You will want to create some type of measuring apparatus to make drafting easier. I created my 'nail' ruler several years ago while making another project from the book.
I used the backside of an old ruler to draw out the 'nail' measurements. 

Measurements for this cap are as follows (I have left out the additional measurements for fabric yardage which the author includes for economical cutting of more then one cap):

Length of crown down the selvage...6 nails
Width of the crown, or three in the breadth.....8 nails
Length of the head-piece down the selvage.....8 nails
Width of the head-piece, or twelve in the breadth....2 nails

As I was drawing the draft I studied the illustration and made changes where necessary. Each piece started out as a rectangle. The crown was 8 nails by 8 nails. The curve for the crown began 6 nails up from the bottom and sloped gently to the center back. The headpiece measured 2 nails wide by 4 nails long (the illustration provided the 4 nails measurement) with the curve beginning 1 nail from the corner on the long edge to 1 nail from the corner of the short edge. Here is how my final draft looked.
Final draft of the cap pattern.

Once I was happy with the draft it was time to start cutting. I cut one of each pattern piece. The crown was cut with the center back on the fold. The headpiece was cut with the short straight side on fold. The fabric used for this project was 100% cotton batiste from my stockpile. I would have preferred to use a nice light weight linen but made due with what I had on hand.

One thing I noticed studying the draft was the crown is extremely wide at the neck edge. The illustration shows no evidence of a drawcord along the neck edge to help fit the cap to the head. Since the instructions were vague and the author obviously expects her readers to know what to do, I decided to add a casing for a drawcord. The casing is folded 1/4" plus another 1/4". I also stitched an eyelet on the outside center of the casing to allow for the drawcord to be tightened or loosened according to the wearers preferences.
Eyelet sewn on the outside of crown casing at center back of neck edge.  I stitched the eyelet before sewing the casing.

The crown cut out with the neck edge casing folded and pinned. Ready to start sewing.

The casing was sewn with a plain hem stitch.
Once the casing and eyelet were complete, I inserted the drawcord. The cording (also called tape) I used was purchased from Wm. Booth Draper (http://www.wmboothdraper.com/). It is roughly 1/8" wide. I buy a lot of this cording because it is very versatile in period garments (they have other widths too). It is wider then period cording but I have not found anyone producing anything close to period cording; which was very thin and durable.
Cording inserted into casing on crown. 

1/8" cording from Wm. Booth Draper. 
Around the outside edge of the crown I worked a rolled hem. This created a very nice finished edge that will be attached to the headpiece. It's important to work the rolled hem from the bottom of the crown edge (including the casing and cording) all the way around to the other side. 

Rolled hem edge including the casing and cording. 
Detail of rolled hem edge around crown.

The crown with the rolled hem complete.

Once the crown was finished, it was time to move to the headpiece. I started by pressing the front of the headpiece (the side with the curves) with a 1/8" fold + 1/8" fold. This required some finagling around the curves. I used a plain hem stitch to finish the hem.

Headpiece with the front edge hemmed. The straight side (back of headpiece) is pinned for hemming.
The straight edge of the headpiece was stitched last. I used the same hem measurements as the curved edge; 1/8' + 1/8". This is the side that the crown is attached too.

Now comes the tricky bit. I'll do my best to explain this next step.......

I marked the center point on the crown and the headpiece. I also marked a point on each side of the crown where the gathering will begin and stop, leaving the crown straight; approximately 3" up from the casing on each side. The curved side of the crown ( rolled hem edge) needs to be gathered to fit the headpiece. Over the rolled hem I worked a whipped gather stitch that was pulled tight to create very tight gathers along the edge. "The Lady's Guide to Plain Sewing" by a Lady, (available at www.kannikskorner.com) has an excellent description of how to work this stitch.  

Detail of the whipped gather stitch. It's hard to see in the photo but the stitches are roughly 1/8" apart. This is pulled tight to create the gathers in the next photo.

It worked easier for me to gather half of the crown at a time and attach it to the headpiece. I started on the right-side of the crown at the mark 3" up from the casing and whip gathered to the center point of the crown. It took some gentle persuasion and work to pull the gathers tight enough to fit the right half of the headpiece (Take your time and ease the gathers to form! Don't yank the thread or pull to hard because it could break from the tension. Use a STRONG hand-quilting thread or double your plain cotton thread for this step.) Matching the center points and the edges, I pinned the the crown and headpieces together.

Right half of the crown and headpiece pinned together. The pin at the top left of the photo is the center point of the the crown and headpiece.
Sewing the crown and headpiece together. The needle goes through the top edge of the headpiece fold and the loop of the whipped gather. The thread will lay naturally in the space between the gathers.
Stitching the headpiece and crown together was very simple. I did a overcast stitch (catching just the fold edges) from where the pieces were pinned together at the crown casing edge and back corner of headpiece to the 3' mark. When I reached the gathers I began catching each gather at the loop side closest to the headpiece and run the needle through the top edge of the headpiece (see photo above for a visual). The thread will naturally lay within the space between the gathers if the stitch is done correctly. 

Continue attaching the left side together in the same manner as the right side. When both sides are completely sewn, open the seam by gently working the headpiece away from the crown. This makes a very flat and tight seam without the bulk modern seams create.

The headpiece (left) and crown (right) after seam has been opened up.  You can see the overcast stitches that attach the pieces together.
Below is the finished day cap. The drawcord at the back really helped in making it fit a child's head. I decided not to do a ruffle (as in the illustration) around the cap. A period ruffle would be attached in the same manner as the crown to the headpiece; with whipped gathers. A nice piece of period lace would be another alternative to finishing the edge and dressing-up the cap. A chin strap could also be added similar to the one in the illustration.

The finished day cap. It reminds me of the day caps worn by the school girls in the latest Jane Eyre movie (2011).
*I realize the final cap is not an exact copy of the one illustrated in the book. The differences are minor but it bothered me enough that I went back and double checked (and triple checked) my measurements. All the measurements were correct. The casing at the neck edge makes the biggest difference in shape; without it the cap would be entirely to big for a girls head or even a woman's. The illustration is not clear if there is a working casing on the neck edge but adding it definitely helped.

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